Government seeks to use army in domestic operations

Ministers Patricia Bullrich and Luis Petri announced a security package that would change Argentina’s Homeland Security Law if approved

The government announced that it hopes to modify Argentina’s Homeland Security Law by presenting a series of bills to Congress. The changes would allow the Armed Forces to participate in domestic security operations — they are currently restricted to an ancillary role — including drug trafficking and organized crime.

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich and Defense Minister Luis Petri gave a press conference on Thursday at the Casa Rosada detailing the five projects they are submitting to Congress as instructed by President Javier Milei. 

The changes to the Homeland Security Law are specifically meant to address the ongoing crisis in Rosario, Santa Fe, where drug trafficking violence caused 259 murders in 2023 and more than 30 so far this year. Earlier this week, the Armed Forces were deployed to the embattled city in a supportive role, per the law.

“The situation in Rosario is critical,” said Petri. “The Armed Forces are already providing support in logistics and communication, but all these efforts are not enough, and we are seeing terrorist attacks now.” Earlier this month, local hit men deliberately targeted four individuals with no ties to organized crime after authorities released photos of a prison raid that echoed the images of imprisoned gang members in El Salvador. 

“Faced with this situation, the president instructed us to take action with all the power of the state,” said Petri.

According to Rosario-based investigative journalist and politician Carlos del Frade, the decision is an implementation of what the United States defined as a “new national security doctrine” in the 1990s when, after the end of the Cold War, communism could no longer be used to conjure up internal enemies.

“With the excuse of drug trafficking, they use the army to generate social control and the result is infinitely worse than what they want to solve,” he told the Herald

In Del Frade’s view, the root of Rosario’s issues is the “47 neighborhood narco-police gangs”, and the government should focus on fighting “the niches of corruption of Santa Fe’s police and the penitentiary service.”

The proposed security package also includes bills aimed at “mafias” and recidivism, extended DNA records for sexual offenders, and a “Public Order Law” that targets protests and social organizations.

These bills are the latest in a series of legislative moves designed to give security forces more teeth in the first 100 days of the Milei administration. Bullrich announced a controversial anti-protest protocol in December specifically aimed at clamping down on protests which was condemned by human rights groups and the United Nations. In February, a federal court ruled it should be adapted to respect the National Constitution and international human rights standards. Last week, the minister launched new police gun guidelines allowing officers to open fire without warning, also raising concerns from human rights organizations.

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